Nuclear Energy in Portugal

Angel Rubio
March 19, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Logo depicting anti-nuclear ideals. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

First discovered in 1907, Portugal found itself to possess significant radium-uranium reserves. [1] Starting in 1909, Portugal began mining uranium and radium from its Rosamaneira mine. [1] At first, radium was the main element that the country focused on mining. After the first nuclear bomb was detonated, the price of uranium made it a much more attractive option. [1] It then began mining its uranium reserves and began selling them to the United States and the United Kingdom. By the end of WWII, Portugal one of the worlds largest producers of uranium concentrates. Following Dwight D. Eisenhower's UN "Atoms for Peace" speech, Portugal, which had a dictatorship, formed a nuclear energy board in order to be able to gather the knowledge and skills to able to use its own uranium reserves as a form of energy. [2]


After Eisenhower's talk, Portugal and the United States signed a bilateral agreement to work on researching nuclear energy. [3] It wasn't until 1961 that Portugal's first research reactor became active. [2] Portugal then planned to start construction of its nuclear power plants. However, these plans at first were delayed due to Portugal's spending large amounts its the decolonization wars of Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique. [3] During this time, Portugal began researching where would be the best place to place the plant. [1]

It was not until March 1974 that Portugal announced it would be constructing a nuclear plant in Ferrel, a village located 100 km from Lisbon. [3] However, a month later, in April 1974, a coup overthrew the dictatorship of Salazar-Caetano. [3] As a result, the plant never began construction. [3]

The newly formed government had a goal of Democratization, Decolonization, and Development. Nuclear energy was an element of the third goal. [2] In 1975, the Minister of Energy and Industry announced that construction on the Ferrel nuclear plant would be restarted. However, Portugal also had a surge in a democracy, and a strong opposition to the plant emerged. [2] Quickly, anti-nuclear posters such as the one displayed in Fig. 1, appeared around the country. In 1976, when the plant began construction once again, citizens from Ferrel marched to the work site and forced workers to abandon their work. [2] At the same time, there was a large increase in anti-nuclear and environmental rights activities [2]

Throughout the years leading to 1986, Portugal investigated the pros and cons or a nuclear plant. It also published a white paper discussing how a nuclear plant would affect its National Energy Plan. [2] In the end, the Chernobyl accident led to fears and negative view of nuclear energy. Portugal then shifted to focus on natural gas and coal. [2]


Nowadays, Portugal is attempting to greatly increase its energy production from renewable resources, including hydro, wind and solar power. [4] The only nuclear reactor that the country has is the same 1 MW research reactor that was activated in 1961. [3] The only discussion it has concerning nuclear power is an argument with Spain involving where Spain dumps its nuclear waste. [5]

© Angel Rubio. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Uranium Sites: Environmental Radioactivity and Discharge Monitoring and Part of National Monitoring System for Environmental Radioactivity: Portugal," European Comission, 26 Apr 12.

[2] T. S. Pereira, A. Carvalho, and P. F. C. Fonseca, "Imaginaries of Nuclear Energy in the Portuguese Parliament: Between Promise, Risk, and Democracy.," Public Underst. Sci. 26, 289 (2016).

[3] W. C. Müller and P. W. Thurner. eds., The Politics of Nuclear Energy in Western Europe (Oxford University Press, 2017).

[4] E. Rosenthal, "Portugal Gives Itself a Clean-Energy Makeover," New York Times, 9 Aug 10.

[5] "Portugal to Complain to EU over Spain's Planned Nuclear Dump Site," Reuters, 12 Jan 17.